By Mike Dojc
Pull into pit lane in this racing mecca, home to Charlotte Motor Speedway, zMax Dragway and multiple NASCAR team shops. Those with a penchant for roaring engines and pedal to the metal mayhem will find plenty to get revved up about in the Queen City’s northeastern burbs of Con-cord, Kannapolis, Midland, Mount Pleasant, and Harrisburg.
Wet and wild all-ages family fun is in store at Great Wolf Lodge North Carolina. The indoor water park resort’s signature slides include River Canyon Run, an exhilarating rafting adventure, and the Howlin’ Tornado, a six-story funnel of fun. For those who live and breathe NASCAR, National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), and dirt track throwdowns, Camping World Racing Resort located off I-85 at Exit 49 is a full-hookup facility open to RVers year-round. Amenities include an in-ground fire pit, playground and a sand volleyball court. For a more traditional hotel stay, the Em-bassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte — Concord Golf Resort & Spa is another way to play it.
Imagine skydiving minus that terrifying detail where you make the ultimate trust fall out the door of an airplane soaring 14,000 feet above terra firma. At iFLY Charlotte-Concord, all-ages are welcome to float on a column of air in a high-tech wind tunnel. Back on solid ground, try hard charging down the straightaways of an iconic 1.5-mile track and get a handle on 24-degree banked curves. From a hot lap ride along to a sans-instructor solo thrill ride, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts many racing schools including Rusty Wallace Racing Experience and Richard Petty Driving Experience and Buck Baker’s Seat Time Racing School. You can even drive an Indy-style race car with Mario Andretti Racing Experience or get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini with Xtreme Xperience. For a low-speed evening adventure, the track’s annual Speedway Christmas (Nov. 19-Jan. 2) dazzler features four million lights synched to holiday tunes.
Pull into the team headquarters of Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Roush Fenway Racing. After soaking up race lore, perusing showrooms and peeping at fast rides, be sure to make a pitstop at the giftshop to take home some swag. The Depot at Gibson Mill in Concord is a picker’s paradise. At 88,000 square feet, it’s the largest antique mall in the south. Stroll through Downtown Kannapolis and flip through vinyl at Recyclable Records, sip on a pint at veteran owned Old Armor Beer Company, and pick up a sweet treat at Eat Cakes Bakery. For mainstream shopping therapy, pull into Concord Mills, a 1.4-million-square-foot mega mall — oval shaped of course, just like a race track. The Lionel Retail Store is a must stop for NASCAR fans looking for die-cast stock cars and model train buffs alike.
Downtown Mount Pleasant’s Southern Grace Distilleries whips up batches of their award-winning Conviction bourbon and Sun Dog 130 corn whiskey in a 90-plus-year-old prison. Take their adults-only nighttime “Convicted Spirits Tour at Whisky Prison” led by a paranormal investigator. Next, belly up to the bar and keep the drinks coming at 73 & Main Restaurant, a restaurant, pub and bourbon bar located inside a historic hosiery mill. Metaphorically draft behind NASCAR GOAT Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the self-guided “Dale Trail” to No. 3’s favorite haunts. Physical maps are available at the Cabarrus County Visitors Center in Concord at Exit 49 off of Interstate 85.
(Go Magazine Holiday Nov-Dec 2021)